Kidnapped Italian journalist refutes American government claims

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, who was hit by American artillery fire after being rescued from kidnappers in Iraq, was released from the hospital Thursday. Her injuries, more serious than initially reported, were caused by a projectile that burst her shoulder open and punctured her lungs. She suffers with fluid build-up in her lungs to this day and was unable to leave her home to participate in news interviews.

Sgrena told an independent reporter, Naomi Klein, in a report yesterday (Friday, 3/26/2005) on the Pacifica Radio Network broadcast called "Democracy Now with Amy Goodman," that they were not on a high security airport road which the Americans had claimed. There were no "checkpoints" — they had already passed through them in the Green Zone. Sgrena stressed this as being very important to this story, and little reported upon in the U.S.

She said they received permission from security officials to use a little known, but very secure, road that was near to their airport destination. This road had no roadside bombs — it is not open to the public and has absolutely no military checkpoints. Access to the road was gained by first passing through the American-held security territory called the "Green Zone". Located in the heart of Baghdad, the zone is probably the only partly secure area of the entire country, according to Sgrena. They had their headlights on for easy identification while they traveled, and were in mobile phone contact with Italian security officials.

Ms. Sgrena asks why a tank would fire high velocity munitions at a small vehicle with permission to cross on such a secure road with absolutely no other traffic? What would the motive be to have her killed? It is known that the anti-artillery munitions were 4 inch long armor-plate penetrating rounds, which could explain her severe injury and the death of her body guard.

Her tragedy and the death of Nicola Calipari have been very detrimental to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's public opinion, particularly regarding his participation in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She had just been released from a horrible sequence of events beginning with her kidnapping and imprisonment in a small room. She did not know "night from day for an entire month." She feared the house she was in might come under fire from American helicopter gunships. She could hear them overhead at all hours of the day and night.

She was told by her kidnappers that "Americans did not want her to get out alive," which she dismissed at the time as a threat from the kidnappers. She also said the statement by the kidnappers had an eerie overtone to it, since she knew that Bush didn't want any independent journalists to carry tales out of the killing zones, or to talk to everyday Iraqis.

According to Sgrena, she was placed in the back seat of the escape vehicle with the head of Italy's Foreign Military Intelligence, Nicola Calipari, after her release. He was killed during the attack when he shielded Sgrena from bullets by jumping across her body. The shooting was done by heavy artillery on top of the attacking tank, not a simple machine gun. They fired at Sgrena from behind — hardly a situation where the car could be a threat to the tank. When the driver, Giulian, climbed out of the shot-up car, he was in touch with his superiors in Italy — and Ms. Sgrena says he was telling them they had been taking intense gunfire, "300 to 400 shots." The Americans aimed guns at him and told him to hang up immediately.

Klein, the reporter with this story, stated the American press has not reported any of this. Nor have they given the American people any idea of the seriousness of the injuries to Sgrena. Sgrena also questioned why the US Army was not aware of her release from kidnapping, as all of the major news wires had reported it prior to the shooting incident.

Late Thursday, Italian Justice minister, Roberto Castelli, contacted American officials for permission allowing Italian police access to the escape car, a Toyota Corolla which was rented from the Baghdad airport. Americans have previously only permitted Italian authorities access to photographs of the car, and have not stated when they will allow the Italians to have access to the vehicle.

Recently Mr. Berlusconi has begun to backpedal on his statement that Italian troops would be out of the war zone by September. He now claims he never said that, and Italians won't leave Iraq until it can police itself.

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